Isis prison still not realising its potential for retraining and rehabilitation

The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI Isis today publishes its 2015 Annual Report. The Board’s primary message is about the continuing failure of this prison, opened as a purpose built training facility for young men in 2010, to fulfil its role to retrain and rehabilitate these young men. The two most significant concerns for the Board in 2015 have been the lack of staff to operate a normal regime, and the limited number of offenders attending training courses, primarily caused by failings in the contract with the education provider.

‘We remain concerned that so many of the excellent facilities in the prison have been severely underused and that offenders have had their rehabilitation opportunities limited because of external factors.’ said Peter Ward, Chair of the Board. ‘Solutions to these problems are frequently outside the control of the prison management and our Report urges the Prisons Minister to provide the Governor more freedom to manage the prison’ added Peter.

A temporary “restricted regime” has been in place since September 2013 because of staffing limitations. The Board received assurances from the Minister during 2014 that a full training regime would be reinstated by the Spring of 2015. In July of 2015, we were told by the Minister that “The prison expects this level of restriction to continue to the autumn”. Despite some limited progress in increasing the times allowed for education, this has not happened and we have entered 2016 with no firm plan for the “restricted regime” to be lifted.

Violence across the prison remains high, with incident levels a third higher than during 2014. There were 80 recorded incidents of assaults between offenders and 43 on prison officers in 2015. This is influenced by the age of the offenders and the many gang affiliations in the prison, but also by the frustration felt by the offenders at being locked in their cells for long periods. Offenders spend 14 hours overnight locked in their cells as it is not possible to provide evening association due to the staffing issues.

‘Violence continues at unacceptable levels across the prison. While the reasons are various and complex given the age group and many gang affiliations across the prison, the continuing week to week tempo of violence must be reduced, with the offenders and the prison staff feeling they are in a safe environment,’ said Peter.

Among other concerns raised by the Board is the continued lack of crucial sentence plans for the offenders to assist in their rehabilitation activities (only half of the population have sentence plans); a lack of consistency in the way offenders’ property is managed across the prison estate, particularly when they are transferred; and the increasing incidents involving the use of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) drugs such as Spice.

On the plus side, the Board again reports on some good individual offender achievements with resulting employment placements following release.